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I appreciated the strength of women. There she was, heavily pregnant, clambering aboard a heaving ship with the spirit of the pioneers who once dashed about colonizing everywhere in lace and frills. Only Martia was not in lace and frills, but in maternity slacks and a heavy oilskin which, had she missed her footing, would probably have drowned her.

I recall a similar episode at Cape Brett a couple of years late while we were on leave in Russell. One of the keeper¡¯s wives was returning to the lighthouse a week after the birth of her first child. I was aboard the Marine Department¡¯s launch Tainui for the trip out and to do a spot of fishing on the way home.

When we reached the lighthouse the sea was surging six feet up the rocks.

¡°Be a bit of a jump,¡± the launchman said to Rae and her husband Frank who had come in to accompany her back from the hospital. They both nodded.

¡°We¡¯ll be all right,¡± she said.

They climbed down into the lighthouse boat and their baby was handed to them in the carrier. When they reached the rocks Rae steadied herself and jumped as the boat surged towards the rock ledge. She staggered a moment and then climbed quickly out of the water¡¯s reach. The boat dropped swiftly as the water retreated. As it surged back, the baby was thrown to the principal keeper¡¯s outstretched arms and handed to its mother who beat a quick retreat as the sea splashed up again.

¡°Need tough shelias in the lighthouse business,¡± the young launchman observed laconically, as Rae and her husband climbed with bent backs up the steep cliff track.

Some time later another Cape Brett mother had to have her child delivered by lighthouse keepers themselves. The weather was too rough for the doctor and the district nurse from Paihia to reach the station.

Instead, they had to be landed some miles down the coast and slog through thick bush and precipitous country. In the meantime the baby was born, fortunately without and complications. The department took a jaundice view of the whole performance and was at some pains to express its disapproval that the event had not been conducted in a hospital in the proper manner.

Of course the baby had come several weeks earlier than expected-an event which happily, so far, anyway, is beyond the bureaucracy of government departments¡¯ control or influence. Lords they might be, but not yet gods.

But there was no doubt about it. Pregnant girls in oilskins climbing heaving ladders, newly-delivered mothers jumping onto wet rocks and climbing cliffs, are having babies while the doctor was lost in the bush-lighthouse shelias needed to be tough all right!

The doctor examined Martia and asked why she had come in so early. There were still at least nine weeks to go. After her expostulation and then explanation, his sigh left no doubts as to what he meant but which, in the professional ethics, he felt better left unsaid.

Two months later the time arrived for her to go to the hospital. She was on her own in an accommodation house in a wet Auckland winter. Her mother was in another country and I may as well have been in another world.

She timed her pains, picked up her bag, and walked to the hospital.


The first I knew of anything was a short telegram from the matron that a son had been born that morning. I left the radio room and walked down the hill. Soon I would be able to eat something better than pressure-cooked Irish stew. God! Did I hate Irish bloody stew! I wasn¡¯t much good at baking bread, either.

She and David came home three weeks later. Life resumed as orderly a course as was possible with a new baby in the house. Those who have experienced that condition will know what I mean.

Those who have not would never understand.